Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Karakalpakstan Cooking (Some of Central Asia's Finest Cusine)

" Shorpa in preparation"


Karakalpak cusine whilst not that dissimilar to other Central Asian fare is more true to tradition than some and is noted for its high quality ingredients (some really tasty produce found in the Amu Darya delta lands).

They have none of the genetically modified vitamin depleted, tasteless produce (gunk) we endure from "agribusiness" who nowadays dominate our food chain.

The main staples in Karakalpakstan are flat unleavened bread or nan, potatoes, rice and pasta and some beef / mutton or fish.

Sausage, chicken and cheese are expensive and are therefore eaten sparingly.

Muslim beliefs do not prevent the consumption of either pork (albeit it's not that common) or for that matter alcohol. Most people (men) like a nice glass of fine Uzbek red wine or a bottle or two of the famous local "Qarataw" Vodka (particularly at celebrations - lots of toasts).

Most bazaars have a good selection of vegetables and seasonal salads. Including yellow carrots, potatoes, beetroot, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, peppers, dill and coriander. Fruits are particularly good: especially the cherries, apricots, honey melons, water melons, grapes, and pomegranates. Other specialities include natural yogurt and honey.

The usual drinks taken during the meal is black or green tea served with sugar. In summer cold green tea also favoured.

Karakalpaks are also big on snacks and you will often find them eating dried fruit, nuts and sunflower seeds. Soft drinks, biscuits, chocolate bars, and other sweets are also common at celebrations.

The most frequently encountered dishes in Karakalpakstan include:

Plov - The common staple food for everyday meals but can be elaborated for special celebrations. It consists of chunks of fried mutton with onions, thinly shredded yellow carrot and rice steamed together in a large iron pot.

Shashlyk (Shaslik) - Also known as kebabs, are skewered chunks of mutton or pork barbecued over charcoal and served with sliced raw onions and nan.

Bes barmaq - Is boiled beef with small square cut pieces of pastry boiled in broth.

Ju'weri gu'rtik - Is a pasta dish made with ju'weri (dzhugary) wheat rather than normal wheat in small round pieces boiled in broth with beef.

Kesbas - Is made of pasta cut into slices and boiled in water with meat, carrot, onion, potato tomato and of course salt.

Samsa - Is a pastry pie stuffed with meat and onion or pumpkin, potato, cabbage, mushrooms or nuts and is baked in a tandyr (tandoor) or oven.

- after Plov, Manti is the most popular and favourite dish. It consists of large dumplings stuffed with finely chopped meat, seasoned with various spices and a large amount of onion, and then steamed over water. Can also be stuffed with pumpkin. It is usually served topped with sour cream.

Pelmeni - Stuffed pasta parcels filled with meat or vegetables.

Shorpa - Is a meat and vegetable soup cooked in a Kazan (see photo from my son’s birth celebration).

Lagman - Is a thick noodle soup with thinly-sliced fried meat, garlic and vegetables.

Some Recipes:

Samsa – To start a stiff dough is mixed, and then left for 20-30 minutes under an upturned bowl, then unrolled in plaits and cut on pieces of 10-15 grams. It should not be thicker than 2-2,5 mm. Edges more thin than the middle. Forcemeat is put in the centre, formed in dough and being baked in a high temperature. For the dough the following ingredients are required: flour - 25 g, water - 105 g, salt - 6 g; for forcemeat - mutton or beef fillet - 150 g, fat - 35 g, onion- 250 g, caraway seed- 1 g, salt and pepper.

Plov – There are two main steps in making plov. The first is called zirvak. In this step you brown the onion, yellow carrot, and meat in lots of oil in a heavy pot or a Kazan. After browning then you add water and spices and salt. Commonly used spices include caraway seeds, cumin, pepper, and red pepper. You cook the zirvak until the vegetables are cooked well.

The second step is the tricky step. This is this rice step. First you must soak the rice in salted water for 30 minutes. This is very important. After the zirvak is done, place the rice in a flat layer, and pour over hot water. Add salt and bring to boil. Keep the heat on high until all of the water evaporates. Then gather the rice not mixing the rice with the Zirvak, to the middle of the pot. Pierce holes in the rice all the way to the bottom with a spoon and lower the heat. Cover rice with a plate and then put the pot cover on. Then simmer. Cook and cover over low heat until rice is done and all the water has evaporated. Do not allow the plov to burn. When serving, carefully put the rice on the bottom of the plate. Then top with the zirvak.

Quantities used are dependent on how many people you are feeding. I have seen a Kazan which can take over 100 kg of ingredients and feed several hundred people. In general for every kilo of rice used 800gm of carrot and 80-100gm of meat and 50-70gm of onion required.

Mantı - Is prepared from dough and water, which is unrolled in layers by thickness of 4-5 mm and cut in squares of 12x12 sq cm. Meat, vegetables or greens can be used as a stuffing. Manti is cooked on steam during 35-45 minutes in special pot (called a Kas-Kan). It is served topped with sour milk or sour cream.

Pelmeni - tortellini-like pasta parcels filled with meat or vegetables It’s Ingredients are flour, eggs, water and salt. Dough is mixed up and left for 40-50 minutes for swelling. For stuffing use beef or mutton cut on slices and finely cut with onions or pass through the meat grinder, cold water, pepper, salt, thyme should be added and carefully mixed. The dough is unrolled in a layer of 1-1,5 mm thickness and cut on squares of 4x4 sq cm. On a slice of the dough stuffing should be put, corners are pinched and curtailed. When ends are connected, form a half moon with an aperture in the middle. It should be boiled in salt water or bouillon and served with "suzma" (sour milk). It can be seasoned with pepper, sliced onion and tomato, with black pepper or with sour cream.

Lagman - A stiff dough is mixed up from flour, eggs, water and salt; left to swell (enlarge) for 30-40 minutes under a napkin. Then, the dough is unrolled on layers of 1,5-2 mm thickness and diameter not less than 10-15 sm. Layers put in pile, poured with flour and cut in noodles with sharp knife. Slightly stir up noodles and boil in salt water. Before serving, special sauce, which is prepared from meat, potato, carrots, onions and tomatoes is added. These ingredients are all then fried together, adding some water as required and stewed till ready.

Sources: A number of sources including  http:www.karakalpak,com and my wife Dilbar.

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